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The cop who's a collector

He was a policeman for 35 years. In the time he spent catching thieves, he also managed to collect artefacts, and his collection is a historian's envy.

IT IS not often we come across policemen who are also collectors of artefacts. Cops, we would like to believe, are too busy chasing robbers. However, there are honourable exceptions. Like A.J. Anandan, for example. This retired IPS officer, with all the travails his work brought him, managed to find the time, as well as the inclination, to do a historian's job — he has been collecting artefacts for over 35 years now, and the range he has, bewilders.

The feel in Mr. Anandan's house is not really of authority, as one would expect, but of history. This, he owes to his mother, who, very early in her life, took to collecting artefacts. Mr. Anandan took up the habit and stuck to it. He ended up with a collection that is pretty impressive: household artefacts, books, newspapers and periodicals, paper cuttings on eventful incidents, a historic train ticket, weapons of all kinds, birds and fishes, menu cards... a virtually endless list. If one wondered why Mr. Anandan collected anything he came across, it was precisely because he made variety his forte, a variety which told interesting stories.

The household artefacts offer a picture of the everyday life of 19th and early 20th Centuries. A wooden bowl to churn dal, a wheeled tambalam (brass plate) in which betel nut could be passed on from one person to the other, a brass betel nut car, coconut breaker of the old Chettinad model, an elegant spittoon from Karaikudi, a vatiyal rice bowl, sandal paste chombu, padi rice measure from Nagercoil, brass halwa machine, and a bronze gong used to call people for dinner by his grand uncle (who was a mine owner in Nagpur during the Raj) are some of the many everyday artefacts Mr. Anandan has painstakingly collected. Incidentally, he has been buying a lot of these treasures from Karaikudi, Tamil Nadu.

There are other artefacts, though not household ones, reflecting a signal event in India's freedom struggle in the 19th Century: bricks from the Residency Central Fort that was besieged by mutineers in 1857.

One isn't sure whether it is Mr. Anandan's instinct of a policeman or that of a historian that explains his collection of weapons, but be that as it may, the collection interests. Mr. Anandan was the Bijapur Superintendent of Police when he came across some of these weapons. His colleagues were on the verge of consigning them as scrap, but he recognised their value. They were weapons dating from the 18th and 19th Centuries. Consider this: muskets from Tippu Sultan's times (18th Century), with spoons on them that were used to fill in gunpowder; steel swords from the 18th Century, which he secured for Rs. 500 from Vellore; two 19th Century pistols, and a pair of French walking sticks which were actually guns, bought for Rs. 800 from Pondicherry. One other weapon tells an interesting tale: two bazookas from Hyderabad that were supposedly used by people in Gulbarga to shoot silver coins in the air during a marriage function!

Among other unusual weapons he has are bows and arrows from Indore and Mount Abu, used by the Bhil tribes, a muzzleloader with intricate bidri work, kataris or short daggers, and a long axe.

Besides household artefacts and weapons, Mr. Anandan also developed an interest in the value of newspapers and periodicals. He has newspapers of other states and countries, New Year's Day issues, the very last issue of The Mail, March 14, 1981, The Hindu's old and new-look copies, The Indian Post, The Afternoon Flash, the last issue of The Illustrated Weekly of India, every single issue of The Week, the 1967 issue of Swarajya in which Rajaji wrote, a collection of Curly Wee cartoons that were part of The Mail, and 10 volumes of the Mysore Gazetteer of 1910.

Mr. Anandan has also preserved a small booklet that was issued by The Hindu over 40 years ago to indicate change in placement of advertisements. The booklet was issued on January 13, 1958. Prior to that, The Hindu, like many other publications, carried only advertisements on its front page. Interestingly, he has paper cuttings on the death of important personalities such as Diana, Princess of Wales, Prime Ministers Indira Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, and political icon MGR. One other cutting is on the mankind's giant leap on the moon, on July 22, 1969.

Mr. Anandan also has artefacts reflecting an important event in the 1940s when the Japanese entered Manipur. On their way back, they happened to leave behind a wooden box and a measuring jar. And both carried the emblem of the imperial power, clear evidence of their colonial campaign. He managed to get the set from an uncle. The jar was supposedly used to measure acid during the War!

A railway ticket he has from Tambaram to Satyamurthynagar, dating back to the winter of January 1955, is otherwise just a piece of paper. But the ticket assumes aura the moment you realise that Satyamurthynagar was where the Avadi Congress was held, and where the Congress proclaimed socialism as its goal. In fact, a new station had been built for the Congress meet there.

There's more. Fossils from Chengalpet, a million years old, pottery from the Indus Valley civilisation (from Lothal, to be precise), a lamp from an Egyptian pyramid, and a sword from Sierra Leone.

He may have had an affinity for artefacts, but Mr. Anandan loves living things too. Australian finches, African peach-faced lovebirds, piranhas, sharks, and goldfish are part of the exotica in his house.

Doing a historian's job: Anandan with his collection of weapons and newspapers.

Mr. Anandan has approached the Archaeology Department to assess the value of his collection. He feels it is important to preserve articles of historical value and build archives to cultivate a historical sense. And he is set to further this objective.

One curious facet of the man. Whether his sense of history had something to do with Gandhian studies or theology, one doesn't know. But Mr. Anandan worked in the area of Gandhian studies and theology. His book, God For Me, God For All, sold out in its first edition in 1999, and this, by someone known to be a terror among officials while with the Lokayukta!

In the end, it has to be said that for anyone with interest in historical matters, Mr. Anandan's house is a museum worth visiting. He can be contacted on 2212637.


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